Here and Now and Then

Here and Now and Then

A pandemic is the perfect time for my stay -at-home self to catch up on all the 2019 books I didn’t have time or energy to read. Luckily I was able to get three such books out of the library before I locked the husband and I down in the house with weeks of food and (thankfully) toilet paper. Coming off the enjoyable read Recursion by Blake Crouch, I decided to start with the time travel story in the stack.

Mike Chen starts off his book with a bang. We immediately understand that Kin Stewart is a time traveler cop who deals with time traveling criminals – he’s wrestling with one and gets shot. His equipment is damaged, which means they cannot retrieve him and bring him back to the future. So he’s stuck until someone finds him, and then the problems really start.

He’s not supposed to form attachments, but he meets a woman and gets married and gets a dog and has a daughter – all against the rules of a time travel agent. He’s stuck in the past for 18 years before he’s found by a retrieval agent, who makes the arrangements for the jump home. In the future though, its only been a week, and when he returns he tries to manage his family in the past while also reacclimating to his fiancee and friends and job in the future. Spoiler alert: this mix doesn’t go well.

The book goes 100 mph until it screeches to a halt when Kin’s efforts to help his daughter have a better future creates a HUGE alarm in the time travel company. She has created a video game based on one of his journals that basically lays all the company’s secrets bare. He has to return to the past one last time to save her from being erased, helped by his future fiancee Penny and his retrieval agent Markus. This part of the book takes FOREVER and we all know how it’s going to end and it’s the most anticlimactic ending to a book I think I’ve ever read.

Honestly at one point I wanted his daughter to get wiped out of history. Chapter after chapter he’s just obsessed with knowing about her life and how it’s going and how he can help and is she okay??? Oh my god, it was very boring and a little irritating too. Just let it go, man. Start over with Penny. Live your life into the future and let the past be the past.

The book as a whole is really well written and the story is sound, but it’s not very deep. There aren’t any lessons to take away, you kind of know what’s going to happen the whole time. But if you want a quick read about time travel, you could do a lot worse than Here and Now and Then. Give it a try.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota

The Lager Queen of Minnesota

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

The Lager Queen of Minnesota is a story of two sisters and their split over underage drinking.

Helen drinks beer for the first time in her teens and discovers an almost obsessive love of all things beer: lagers, IPAs, stouts, you name it. At first she tries to get her hands on beer to drink, but then she decides that she wants to create beer. She hooks up with (and eventually marries) a local beverage heir (Blotz Brewery) and talks her elderly dad into selling his farm to help fund her venture. The trick is that she does not split this money with her sister, Edith, which causes a rift of silence that lasts until they are in their seventies.

Most of the story follows Edith’s descent into poverty with her husband, who dies and leaves her alone. They do not own their home, they rent, and so when she eventually loses her jobs in the recession, she has to move to a cheaper apartment in a more touch and go neighborhood. Events transpire that also cause her to be the guardian of her granddaughter, who somehow finds herself employed at a local brewery instead of going to college (see also: crippling poverty).

I have to be honest and say that I did not like this one as much as Kitchens of the Great Midwest. While Kitchens was able to weave one woman’s influence through many different stories, Lager Queen is laser focused on beer, Beer, BEER! almost to the point where certain story turns are unbelievable. The final resolution of the story lacked the weight of Kitchens, even though everyone coming together should have felt very emotional. The story almost begs me to wish for Helen’s ruination, and yet it also wants me to crave her reuniting with Edith? Bringing Helen back into Edith’s life at all demands a level of redemption that this book just does not allow time for. I want Helen to fall from grace, to experience want and poverty, to reap what she has sown with her greed and manipulation before she has to come crawling back to Edith because Edith has built something successful with her granddaughter and Helen could still have what she loved but because she had to finally share with Edith. There is a lesson in this book that is lost in the seemingly rushed ending.

I will say that Stradal’s portrayal of how the economy and education works for people who are struggling was very spot on. Poverty hiding in plain sight, kids working jobs to help their parents pay bills, trying to avoid shaming at school by putting up a front, and the list could go on and on. I was uncomfortable reading the second half of this book if only because it immersed me in so much of what my life has been like so far. One of the reasons I kept reading was to see how it all turned out – and low and behold like so much of being poor, getting out often takes luck and charity and sometimes even that is very shaky.

Stradal’s writing is still amazing, and Edith’s story is compelling enough to enjoy it on its own without knowing anything about Helen, so I finished the book and was happy for the group of brewing grandmas having fun making beers they thought would be cool. Pick this one up and see if you feel the same way. I wouldn’t miss one of Stradal’s books and you shouldn’t either.

They Say It’s Your Birthday (Pandemic Edition)

Hello there.

It’s my birthday today. Thirty-seven years of age and what a time to be alive.

For the first time I don’t really want anything for my birthday. The husband got me some things that he had planned to get for Christmas but at the time we didn’t have the money to get them. I even signed up to proctor an SAT this morning for some extra money. At most I want a Moe’s burrito for lunch and to fall asleep in my chair in the middle of playing video games. I’m tired. What I want for my birthday is money and sleep – proctoring the SAT got me the first and only I can make the second happen. This wish brought to you by Zzzquil.

If you are a follower who would like to help me celebrate (which you do not have to) you can buy me a coffee through Ko-Fi (Ko-fi.com/angryangelbooks) or at paypal.me/AngryAngelBooks. At the very least do something you enjoy today and send some good vibes my way. Anything is appreciated.

Our school system is on spring break this week, and has also opted to close the following week due to the current pandemic. If there is any silver lining to this situation it is that I will have a lot more time to read and provide you with more quality reviews. I’m currently reading The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal of Kitchens of the Great Midwest fame. I’m about halfway through so the review should be up shortly. 

Angry Angel Books favorite Samantha Irby is releasing her next collection of essays Wow, No Thank You on March 31st. Her two prior releases: Meaty (which I have never reviewed for some reason?) and We Are Never Meeting in Real Life are amazing and I expect nothing less from this one. Preorder now wherever you get your books normally and have a book to make you laugh while you are distanced socially. It’s coming to me on release day and I can’t wait.

Stay safe out there, angels. Wash those hands and take care of your neighbors. It’s about to be a bit of a bumpy ride.

 

 

Recursion

Recursion

Dark Matter

I have loved writing this blog over the past 4 years because it has helped me to understand the kind of books that I really love, and those that I would be better to pass by and leave on the shelf. Books that tell futuristic stories that are SUPER plausible are some of my favorites. Recently I read Stephen King’s The Institute which was gripping because 99% of it was plausible and it made the prospects of the psychological fantasy elements that much more terrifying.

Recursion felt to me, at first, a strange Matrix-like story. A chair is invented that can chart your memories, store them, and then reload them into your brain later so you can experience them like it was the first time. It was meant to help people with dementia or other degenerative brain conditions. The chair’s inventor, Helena, is working on this chair to help her mother specifically and is about to run out of funding when she is approached by an Elon Musk-like character Marcus Slade who offers her unlimited dollars to join him on his super-villian-esque oil rig that has been refitted as a research facility and finish her work on the chair. This begins a chain of events that seem very tangled at first but as you read become terrifyingly clear.

This story is not a memory story but a time travel story, and the idea is so bold and so well executed that I was awe-struck by Crouch’s ingenuity. Where did he get this idea? This is wild and amazing and captivating. The second half the book, a full 150 pages, I read all in one night because I could not put it down. Then I spent the next week thinking about which memories I would choose to travel back to in order to change my life. And not to leave anything undone, Crouch also weaves in fairly severe consequences for traveling in this way, making me think twice about whether it would be worth it.

If you like sci-fi that keeps your feet on the ground and messes with actual systems and forces that run our lives day to day, you cannot miss Crouch’s works. They are close enough to real that they make you wonder about what is possible, and then freak you out because it might actually happen. Go get you some.

The Shadow Glass (The Bone Witch #3)

The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch #1)

The Heart Forger (The Bone Witch #2)

Something that I truly believe about books is that they have the power to grab hold of you and not let go. When I first read The Bone Witch, I thought it was pretty good and returned it to the library. But then my mind kept coming back to it and thinking about what I had read, and then I decided I might as well find out what happened next. I got my hands on The Heart Forger and cried harder than I have cried in a long while after reading a story. These books were so sneaky! How did I come to care about this cast of characters in such a short span of time?

The Shadow Glass moves a lot slower than the other two parts of the trilogy. Tea is often out of sight, and we’re watching her friends try to guess at what she’s going to do next. They all know that she is trying to make shadowglass so she can give her brother Fox his life back and supposedly end all magic forever. Her love, Kaden, is helping her achieve this goal. It’s all pointing toward a huge confrontation with an unknown Faceless. They once thought it was a person named Druj but the major twist of the book is that it was someone they knew all along! In my opinion, it could have been anyone and the twist isn’t as meaningful as the author might have thought? I’m not sure.

I won’t spoil the events leading up to the ending, but I will say that it ends just how you think it might, but with some interesting “what ifs” sprinkled in for good measure. This book wasn’t as exciting as its sisters, but it was a satisfying conclusion to a unique trilogy. If you haven’t read this series, you should put it on your summer TBR. Its a good’un.

The Nickel Boys

The Nickel Boys

I live in Tampa Bay, Florida and I remember when The Dozier School for Boys was closed. I remember when they found the graves, and I remember when the unmarked graves were discovered and had to be explored and dealt with. Even as recently as 2019 they were still working there. My sister-in-law and her husband met each other while they were working there as a psychologist and guard respectively. At the time I was horrified at what I was hearing and seeing on the news, but it’s 2020 now and over the years I have come to understand that this was probably not an isolated occurrence. There are probably similar juvenile detention facilities scattered around the southern states that have graves and atrocities yet to be discovered.

What I really liked about The Nickle Boys, more than The Underground Railroad, was that it was more real to me. The characters were fictionalized, but the circumstances that brought them all to the Nickel School were real ways that black boys and men would get caught up in the system. The main character Elwood is on his way to take a college course in his last year of high school when he accepts a ride from a man who is heading toward the campus. The man has actually stolen the car, and so Elwood is charged with car theft as well for being in it and sent away to Nickel after his conviction. This happens despite the mountains of evidence that would have proved his innocence, but in the 1950s south that was a moot point.

The horrors that Elwood witnesses and experiences for himself you can probably imagine at this point. I don’t need to spell them all out for you. Nickel has a part of the campus for white boys and a part of the campus for black boys and in the middle is the White House where they go for extreme corporal punishment. There’s field work and house work but since it’s for kids it’s not a jail, it’s more like a dorm. Kids try to escape and are never seen again, kids break the rules or refuse to follow directions and are never seen again. Sometimes kids graduate back out into the real world, most of the time they don’t.

Honestly I’m horrified, but I’m not surprised. There was a period of time where as a white woman raised in one of the whitest states in the nation I was shocked and appalled by the things I learned about the racial inequities and history in this country. My education on these topics has been fast and complete and now it’s still horrifying, but I’m not numb to it, but I’m rarely surprised. My reaction now is “of course that happened in this nightmare country.”

It’s a short read, so if you’re curious about the history of the Dozier (Nickel) School, it’s worth it to pick up and bear witness to the story. The more people know that this happened, the lower the chance that these children will be forgotten. I linked to several articles at the beginning of the review if you are interested. It was an excellent read. Go get you some.

The Institute

The InstituteThe Institute was a popular one this past year, and when I first put a hold on it at my library I was number 84 on the list. It finally became available with no renewals, because of course someone else was in line behind me to read it, and so I had 14 days to get through this 600 page thrill ride or else send it back or accept the late fines.

I shouldn’t have worried about it. Once I started I couldn’t stop and I was able to finish it in about 8 days. Children are kidnapped from all over the country and taken to the secluded, northern woodlands of Maine to serve at the institute due to their telekinetic or telepathic abilities. Tests and shots and trauma are inflicted in an attempt to enhance these abilities, and then the children are sent to the back half of the institute, from whence they never return. Not surprisingly when our main character Luke is taken, he’s one of the smartest kids to ever enter the institute. When combined with a later arrival Avery, one of the youngest and most powerful telepaths to ever be brought in, they stage an escape that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

I think my favorite King books are the ones that are 90% reality and 10% fantasy. They are the stories that make you believe in the plausibility of the fantastic existing in a world where the daily and mundane tend to hold sway. This story is especially engaging if you know how many children are taken in the US alone every year and never found again; it’s not so unthinkable that something as wild as the institute might be where they were taken, when reality is that it would probably be something just as traumatizing or worse.

Also knowing what I know about northern Maine, you could hide just about anything up there if you had enough money. People say they love Maine but what they mean is that they love the ocean, or Kittery, or Freeport, or Acadia National Park. They don’t know Maine, and the heart of it comes out in so many of King’s books. The terrifying ruralness that hides a multitude of horrors because no one ever goes there to ask questions.

I strongly recommend that you get on your library’s hold list and read this book. It was a fast read for its length, and the story was 100% airtight the entire way. I loved it, and I’m sure you will too. Go get you some.